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Tuesday, 27 October 2015

A Journey Begins



Agia Fotia, Lassithi, Crete

A few weeks back, before we went gallivanting up into the mountains, I said that there was a valley to the east of the village that looks ripe for exploration. I thought we’d make a start today by visiting the tiny hamlet of Agia Fotia where this valley meets the sea. It’s another beautiful October day and there’s a lovely bay at the end of the walk so bring your snorkelling gear. It’s a fairly short stroll down to the village church over there on our right and then we’ll follow the dry river bed, marked by those taller trees, down to the beach and see what we can find on the way.

Oriental Plane, Platanus orientalis
If you enter many a village square in Greece you’ll find at its heart a carefully lopped and cropped shade giving tree under which the old boys sit and while away the hours. This is an Oriental Plane, Platanus orientalis (not from the Far East as its name would suggest – it’s native here – but so called to distinguish it from the American Plane, Platanus occidentalis). Although Agia Fotia doesn’t boast a village square as such, the banks of the river are lined with these fabulous sylvan stalwarts. We were talking about seed dispersal earlier (see Fruits of Autumn)  and these trees are parachutists. The little pompoms you can see dangling down have balls of seeds at the centre and the outside is made up of tightly packed fluffy structures that allow them to be dispersed by the wind.

Tunnels of the Plane leaf miner caterpillar, Phyllonorycter platani
They are not only providing us with shade and shelter but if you look closely at the leaves you can see that somebody else is taking advantage. The tunnels are made by the larvae of a Gracillarid Moth, Phyllonorycter platani and if you pass me the hand lens I’ll have a look and see if anybody is at home. No, it looks as though they’ve pupated and emerged as adults. Quite a pretty little moth with nice wing markings, somewhat reminiscent of these tunnels. You’ll have noticed that there are some other insects enjoying the cool shade with us,  mosquitoes, and I don’t know about you but I’m getting bitten to pieces. Luckily, according to that venerable naturalist Pliny the Elder, the solution is at hand. A paste made from the leaves can be used to treat wounds, bites and stings. I must make some up when we get back. Meanwhile I’ll just crush a leaf between a couple of rocks and rub the juices in to see what happens.

Speckled Wood Butterfly, Pararge aegeria
Here’s a butterfly we’ve met before, the Speckled Wood (see Over the Ridge), but just compare him with this example I spotted in the UK last month. You’d hardly credit that it is the same species of butterfly would you? This is an example of something called an ecocline where the appearance of a species gradually changes, typically over a geographic area. Speckled Woods are bigger and darker in the Northern latitudes to cope with the cooler weather, gradually getting smaller and brighter in Southern latitudes where there is more energy giving sunshine. The literature says that there are two broods a year, Spring and Autumn, but down here in Crete they seem to be an all year round butterfly: the only month in which I haven’t seen adults flying over the last eleven years is September.

Ah, I see we’re emerging on to the beach. Just as well, despite the Plane leaves those mossie bites are beginning to itch like mad. A dousing of seawater will definitely do the trick. Snorkels on, lets go and investigate the rocks beyond that boat over there.

Agios Fotua Bay with Cornetfish, Fistularia sp.
Did you see the Cornetfish? A bit difficult to spot I know but worth looking out for. These are related to the pipefish and seahorses and were first reported in the Mediterranean in 2000 making them one of the more recent arrivals in the Lessepsian migration. This is the ongoing migration of marine organisms from the Red Sea since 1869 when the Suez Canal was opened and was named after Ferdinand de Lesseps, the French diplomat who oversaw the project. Another example of our altering the environment and inadvertently changing a whole ecosystem in the process. Now I suggest we dry off a bit in this gorgeous sunshine and then go and investigate the wildlife in the taverna up there where I happen to know that Manos keeps a bit of a Cretan rarity, a decent house white.

A Jumping Spider enjoying lunch

OK, that’s investigated the wildlife on the menu: a plate of small fishes with bread and rocket salad will do me I think but I see that we are not dining alone. Down here on the floor we have a little Jumping Spider enjoying a plump fly. They’re great at that sort of thing and I always encourage them into the house and garden for that very reason. It’s cheaper, more effective, more environmentally friendly and doesn’t get up your nose as much as chemical fly sprays. Did I ever show you the video I made of one deftly removing a house fly from my foot? No? Hang on, I have it here somewhere. Ah, here it is:


Until next week – happy hunting…pass me one of those delicious looking figs would you? 

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